Ram 1500 big but handles like sporty sedan
This time, there's none of that stuff about towing a gazillion pound trailer, or stacking the box with a giant load of iron ingots.
Nope, with the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup truck, it's all about fuel economy -- to the point where a perusal of the published specifications does not unearth information about payload or towing capability.
It's not that it is unavailable. It's just that the story here -- as almost everywhere these days -- is all about squeezing the most out of every gallon of fossil fuel.
Right now, it's Ram's turn with its new 1500 light-duty pickup and all of its iterations. But the main talking points focus on the model with the 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter engine linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission -- the sort of amenity usually associated with pricey luxury cars. It's the first in a big pickup.
The transmission, along with aerodynamic tweaking and such features as stop-start technology and shutters in the grille that close to direct air around the truck when it's not needed for cooling, enables the new Ram to deliver a claimed best-in-class EPA city/highway fuel economy rating of 18/25 miles to the gallon. That's for the short bed standard pickup with stop-start technology.
Connect that with the other emphasis -- design and styling -- and you end up with what is, in some models, a rolling comfort zone that can rival luxury cars. It consists of a striking number of combinations of quality materials and colors for the upholstery, doors, center console and dashboard.
There also are choices of wheels, exterior colors and optional equipment featuring the brand's state-of-the-art UConnect system, which employs an 8.4-inch touch screen and multiple ways to operate navigation, satellite and Web-based radio, mobile phones and digital music players. The system includes 911 and "ASSIST" buttons on the inside rear-view mirror to summon emergency help as well as roadside or other assistance.
An optional air suspension system enables the truck to sort of kneel down for ease of entry and exit, lowers the body for more economical highway cruising, and raises it up for more off-road ground clearance.
If you insist on a V8 engine, there are two: 310-horsepower, 4.7-liter with a six-speed automatic transmission or the 395-horspower Hemi with either the six- or eight-speed automatic.
For more serious duty, there's four-wheel drive. It is a part-time system with a transfer case that offers two-wheel drive as well as locked four-wheel drive in high or low ranges.
The Ram tested here was an SLT Crew Cab 4X4 with the V6 and the eight-speed transmission. There is a bewildering array of versions in regular cab, quad cab and crew cab with two-wheel and four-wheel drive. They carry names like Express, Tradesman, Big Horn, Lone Star, Outdoorsman, Sport, Laramie, Limited and Longhorn.
The fun comes when you try to sort all of this out at the dealership. It's similar to building something with Legos without knowing where you'll end up.
Though not a top-line model, the test truck had the air suspension system. It had a starting price of $37,735 and an as-tested price of $45,845. The upholstery was a sturdy, comfortable cloth, although other versions come with leather or work-oriented cloth.
Another new Ram 1500 feature is electric power steering, which contributes to fuel economy because it operates only when needed, unlike the more familiar hydraulic unit, which runs all the time and uses a small amount of the engine's horsepower.
Considering that the Ram is a big truck -- more than 19 feet long in this case -- the steering was responsive and delivered good feel and feedback. It is a reminder of how far modern pickups have come in ride and handling -- about as capable as sports sedans were a decade ago.
There's solid, long-distance comfort up front and in the outboard positions in the roomy backseat, though the ride can get pickup bouncy.
The eight-speed transmission was deliberately designed for a so-called quick tip-in, meaning that it provides sudden response off the line. It creates an illusion of rapid acceleration. In the Ram, it's not completely an illusion. Acceleration is strong.
The stop-start technology, which shuts down the engine at stoplights and stop signs, works about as well as can be expected with a powerful engine. Still, there is a noticeable shudder when it kicks back on.
Model: 2013 Ram 1500 SLT 4x4 Crew Cab pickup truck.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 305 horsepower.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with four-wheel drive.
Overall length: 19 feet 1 inch.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 125/50 cubic feet.
Weight: 5,185 pounds.
Payload: 1,610 pounds.
Towing capability: 5,800 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 16/23 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $37,735.
Price as tested: $45,845.